Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Aquatic Biologist Kevin Walters speaks with Science Around Michigan for the #MIspecies campaign about the innovative “Landing Blitz” invasive species outreach events. Walters coordinates the statewide program, which involves local partner organizations visiting public and private boating access sites from July 1 – 10 to raise awareness about the impact of recreational boating on the spread of aquatic invasive species (AIS) and to educate boaters on how best to prevent the accidental introduction of non-native species.
Adrian de Novato: Aquatic Invasive Species Landing Blitz is relatively new as I understand it, but it is growing rapidly each year. Tell us a bit more about the program.
Kevin Walters: Yes, we started the AIS Landing Blitz in 2014 as “pilot study” to see if there was interest and the ability to make it happen. We had 12 locations and received a lot of interest in expanding for the following year. In 2015 we had 52 locations with pretty good geographic coverage of the entire state, including the Western Upper Peninsula. This year, we have around 67 host locations, with some being past participants and many others participating for the first time in 2016.
Adrian de Novato: Why do you think it has grown like it has? Can you speak to positive local response from advocacy organizations contributing to that growth?
Kevin Walters: Recreational boating and fishing are widely recognized as some of the primary pathways by which aquatic invasive species are spread from waterbody to waterbody. Lake associations, riparians, local advocacy organizations and many boaters and anglers know this and are eager to take action to shut the door, so to speak. The AIS Landing Blitz provides a simple, consistent and actionable message in a coordinated and relatively high profile manner that allows local groups and boaters/anglers to each feel like they are making a difference, which I believe they are.
Adrian de Novato: Why do you think Landing Blitz matters and what do you ultimately hope to accomplish?
Kevin Walters: First, it’s one of the only statewide coordinated collaborative events focused on aquatic invasive species. There’s a lot of great action and messaging that takes place at the local level, but we believe collaborating together as a state (natural resource agencies, local groups, concerned citizens, etc.) at least once a year is important for raising awareness of AIS issues and showing widespread willingness to tackle the problems associated with AIS. Ultimately, we want to show that simple actions can make a big difference if we all take part.
Adrian de Novato: When you hold a Landing Blitz event, what is the number one takeaway you would like boaters to learn?
Kevin Walters: The number one take away is that it only takes a few minutes for boaters and anglers to greatly reduce the risk of spreading aquatic invasive species. The concise messaging for the event is essentially “Clean, Drain, Dry, Dispose”. We ask boaters and anglers to clean their boats, trailers and gear before leaving a launch ramp. This typically involves a quick 360 degree walk around the boat/trailer to remove all foreign objects (plant material, mud, etc.). A hose, manual car wash, or AIS specific boat wash can also help in this step.
Next, we tell boaters to drain their live wells, bilges and other compartments that hold water. Plant fragments, small aquatic invasive species (spiny waterfleas, mussel veligers, etc.) and fish diseases can unknowingly be transported in seemingly clean water. Draining before leaving a launch ramp eliminates this risk.
Then comes drying. We recommend that boaters and anglers dry their boats and gear. After loading a boat on a trailer, take a towel and dry the hull, motor and internal compartments. If possible, we also recommend letting everything dry for at least 5 days before launching into a new water body. Invasives and fish diseases can sometimes be mixed in with bait and bait bucket water, so lastly, we ask anglers to dispose of their unused bait in a trash can and not the lake or river they were just fishing in.
Adrian de Novato: Where can people go to learn more about the work that you and the DEQ are doing to help combat invasive species?
Kevin Walters: People can visit our newly updated DEQ/DNR/DARD invasive species website at Michigan.gov/Invasives to learn more about invasive species biology, reporting, events and other information.
The #MIspecies campaign
Help us raise awareness about the serious economic and environmental issues as a result of aquatic invasive species and learn more about how you can help make a difference in your local community at www.sciencemi.org/ais2016.